When I first started diving into researching the various facets of fatphobia, weight bias, and weight discrimination, I literally choked on my gum when I read that weight discrimination was legal in the U.S. and that there is only one state that has minimal laws against it. ONE.
Ummmm…WTF?! How is this possible? I’ll tell you…
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, gender, religion, or national origin (thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964). But some serious omissions have allowed employers and businesses to deny people employment or services. Weight, height, sexual orientation, and transgender status are not included, and while some states now include sexual orientation, none of them have protections around weight or height except for ONE – Michigan. In addition, only two U.S. cities have passed legislation preventing weight discrimination: San Francisco and Binghamton, NY. (I know that the Supreme Court is listening/deciding on LGBTQ protections right now and want to acknowledge and honor the very long battle so many have fought to get to this place!)
It gets worse.
Weight discrimination has increased by 66% since 1995 and is now on par with rates of racial discrimination. This is no coincidence, and if you want to dig a bit deeper, I highly recommend checking out the book “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia” by Dr. Sabrina Strings. Sabrina writes that “fatphobia, as it relates to black women, did not originate with medical findings, but with the Enlightenment-era belief that fatness was evidence of “savagery” and racial inferiority.” (NYUPress2019) More on this later.
I have experienced plenty of weight discrimination throughout my life at the hands of employers and doctors, but the thing that gets me is how we – fat people – have been told our entire lives that we deserve to be treated like shit, that we are not worthy, that it’s our fault we are overlooked, denied a raise, a seat on a plane, or refused medical treatment. This narrative runs over and over in our heads until we hate ourselves so much we develop dangerous eating disorders, turning to drastic measures to “fix” what is wrong, so we can be worthy of living our lives. Make no mistake – fatphobia has taken many lives from us.
What continues to blow my mind is that you can do a quick Google search right now, and you will find dozens of scientific research and articles from national outlets trying to alert the public that weight stigma is the culprit that is making us sick, but we are all so entrenched in the narrative that the only way we are worthy of love, happiness, equal rights, and respect is if we “present” as “healthy”.
Let me be very, very clear on two fundamental points:
1) A person’s health status, whether real or perceived, is not a reason to deny someone their basic right to exist. It is not an open invitation for you to deny them the ability to work, live, and love; and
2) Weight is NOT an indicator of health status. It is one out many, many other factors that determine one’s health. Yet, I would bet all the money in my bank account that if you put a thin (but unhealthy) person and me in a room, and asked people which one was unhealthy, they would choose me 99% of the time.
I love the definition of health used by the Association of Size Diversity and Health that says:
“The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) affirms a holistic definition of health, which cannot be characterized as simply the absence of physical or mental illness, limitation, or disease. Rather, health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity available to all regardless of health condition or ability level, and not as an outcome or objective of living. Pursuing health is neither a moral imperative nor an individual obligation, and health status should never be used to judge, oppress, or determine the value of an individual. ”https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/
But I digress –
I’ve begun educating myself in the process of advocating and working to pass legislation here in Sacramento that is similar to the laws implemented in San Francisco, and California should be the next in line to join Michigan in passing statewide anti-discrimination laws around size.
If you are interested in joining me in this work or know of others that are working on this, I want to talk to you!